MPs To Hold Urgent Session To Debate Ban On Politicians Owning Media
The urgent session was convened by lower house head Marketa Pekarova Adamova. Photo credit: Poslanecka Smenovna Parlamentu.
Prague, May 12 (CTK) – The Chamber of Deputies will meet on 19 May to vote on a bill to tighten the ban on media ownership by top politicians, at an urgent session convened by lower house head Marketa Pekarova Adamova (TOP 09), spokesman Martin Churavy told CTK today.
The session has been called in response to an initiative from government coalition MPs.
The coalition wants to include a stricter ban on media ownership in a government amendment to the management of the Office for Supervising Political Parties and Movements. The opposition ANO has been obstructing a debate on the bill for several months.
The amendment proposes tightening the ban on media ownership by top politicians, and including subsidies and investment incentives in the law on conflicts of interest. It is known as Lex Babis, as it is related to the business activities of ANO chairman and former prime minister Andrej Babis. The law was described by ANO MPs as a “rider” during a February debate on the amendment, and they tried unsuccessfully to suspend the debate either until the end of 2024 or at least until the next session of the Chamber of Deputies.
Jakub Michalek, the head of the Pirate Party’s parliamentary group, rejected ANO’s claim that the changes were aimed at one person, namely Babis.
The MPs’ proposed changes to the bill mainly modify the ban on public officials running radio and television broadcasts and publishing periodicals. To ensure that the ban cannot be circumvented, MPs want it to apply to the actual owner of the media operator, not to the controlling person. The same should apply to companies in relation to the ban on receiving subsidies and investment incentives, which is aimed at government members.
The draft also adjusts the fines for breaching the ban on operating certain media outlets. Based on the amendment, an official who commits a misdemeanour through a company could be fined up to 3% of the company’s assets by the supervisory authority. In addition, before imposing a fine, the authority would first take “appropriate measures,” such as selling the media in question, which was part of the government reservations.
Babis transferred his shares of the Agrofert and SynBiol companies into trust funds after the provision banning media ownership and drawing subsidies and investment incentives came into force in 2017. Agrofert also includes the Mafra group, which is one of the largest media owners in the Czech Republic .
According to the government, the changes to the supervisory authority are intended to improve its supervisory role and law enforcement. Based on the amendment, for example, the top body of the office will be a five-member board, which will take over some of the powers of the office’s chairman.